Short Book Reviews

Working my way through my “To Read” queue…

Sometimes I don’t have enough to fill a full post. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Rating: **** (4 out of 5 stars)

I read this in a matter of two days, a good portion of it during the power outage. This is when spare, simple writing works. Who would have thought that a present-tense first-person novel would work so well? It’s unobtrusive for the reader, allowing the reader to sink into Katniss’s perspective easily without making her a cipher. She’s occasionally thick in recognizing a crush when she sees it, but I’ll assume there are other things on her mind. Sure, the concept of the reality show to the death is not a new one, but it’s hardly plagiarism. It’s simply an obvious extension of where we are now. I have a few thoughts about whether HG condemns its own audience, and I may address that at a later date. I have not read the second two novels, but given that I saw the movie before the book, I was excited about reading the first. And unlike the next review, seeing the movie before reading the book did not impair my ability to enjoy the book.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Rating: *** (3 out of five stars)

I read this off of a recommendation that it’s one of the best fantasy books ever written. And it might be. Beagle has a knack for whimsical turns of phrase and fantastic irony that reminds me a bit of William Goldman. However, the movie was co-written by Beagle, and it borrows about 90% of the dialogue and narrative action from the book. And while the movie is a classic, it has its limitations in the early, awkward animation. If anything, the quality of the movie hurt the quality of the book, because try as I might, I couldn’t stop seeing the characters and the events in the way the movie portrayed them. I could never shake away the movie like I wanted to. Maybe if it had been a live action movie, the reading would have been easier.

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

Rating: ***** (5 out of 5 stars)

This is a dense, long novel – which also I managed to polish off quickly due to the power outage – but somehow Faber’s ironic, cynical, but never despairing voice makes it fly by. It is full of characters that fill you with almost equal parts pity and contempt. Faber immerses you in a Victorian England that is hardly the prim, proper, repressed VE that you are accustomed to reading about, and it is probably more accurate in that respect. The novel has erotic elements – how could it not, with the primary protagonist being a prostitute? – but even those erotic elements are ironic and cynical. The result of the book is a post-modern picture of a world entering modernity, with biting commentary on class, religion, and sexuality of their time and ours without being preachy. If there is one thing to say about Crimson Petal and the White, it’s that the novel is unflinching. Be prepared.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Rating: ** (2 out of 5 stars)

I wanted to like this book. Maybe I’m just the wrong audience for it. Maybe it was like those movies that are billed as classic horror but turn out to be something else (Skeleton Key comes to mind). I felt like it started strong, with solid horror elements. I was excited at the prospect of a good haunted house story. And then it went in a direction that I didn’t expect and didn’t interest me, more Charlotte Sometimes than House on Haunted Hill. I think there so much that could have been done better with its premise (I had in my head that it was going to be like Freaks! meets El Orfanato), but from the middle onward, I got lost with the mythos and I’m not positive, but I think the plot itself got a little confused. And it sounded like there will be a sequel, and the disappointment is that I’m just not interested in reading it.

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